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Indie-rock

Dr. Dog, B-Room (Anti-). Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog has been filling the perceived void between the indie-rock and jam-band genres for the past several years, in the process matching a burgeoning reputation as a must-see live act to a prolific stream of album releases. Those recordings ably tread the high wire between scruffy indie-rock off-handedness and lush, ornate chamber-pop intricacies. The addition in 2010 of former child prodigy and Adrian Belew Power Trio drummer Eric Slick added a significant strain of virtuosity to the proceedings, particularly in the live concert setting. The newly released “B-Room” finds Slick fully integrated into the fold, and his band mates – principal among them guitarist/vocalist Scott McMicken and Slick’s rhythm section partner, bassist Toby Leaman – sound invigorated by this fact. Well, let’s rephrase that – they sound invigorated by Dr. Dog standards, which means that a low-key, relaxed and positively in-control vibe permeates this, the band’s first collection recorded at their own studio, the very one that gives the album its name. Sunny, harmony-heavy, occasionally delightfully obfuscated by a gauzy, My Morning Jacket-like use of reverb, “B-Room” boasts a live-in-the-studio feel that is augmented by judicious employment of studio effects and the occasional overdub. This is no radical departure for Dr. Dog, but rather, represents an ongoing fine-tuning of the sound the band has been pursuing from the beginning. ΩΩΩ (Jeff Miers)

Classical

Beethoven, Diabelli Variations performed on both piano and fortepiano by Andras Schiff (ECM, two discs). It is Paul Griffiths’ contention, in his marvelous notes to this two-disc set, that what resulted from Beethoven setting aside his “Missa Solemnis” to devote himself to a grand set of variations on a decidedly unworthy theme by Diabelli was the height of comic absurdity. What we have here, I suppose, is compound comedy – the Diabelli variations played twice by one of the greatest living pianists and Beethoven interpreters, once on a superb Bechstein piano, once on an authentic fortepiano. Schiff also plays the Sonata No. 32 (on the piano) and the Six Bagatelles Op. 126 (on the fortepiano). The difference? Says Griffiths: The fortepiano “is not a concert grand but a domestic instrument. It speaks home truths which may be stubborn and uncomfortable as well as sure and love-filled.” An unusual set by one of our great pianists, to be sure. ∆∆∆ (Jeff Simon)

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Ellington/Tchaikovsky, Nutcracker Suites performed by the Harmonie Ensemble/New York, Steven Richman, conductor (Harmonia Mundi). I’ve never understood why Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s sassy arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” Suite hasn’t gotten more attention. When I found it, years ago, I got such a kick out of it. It was Christmas time, and I immediately put it on my answering machine. The funny thing is, it didn’t take a lot to jazz up “The Nutcracker.” The music is already pretty jazzy. It has good rhythms, and there is that sequence where Tchaikovsky takes you around the world, so you get some unusual beats and atmospheres. Ellington and Strayhorn saw the potential there and just gave it that additional twist, syncopating things a bit more and adding those growly, conversational trumpets and trombones. Whether the adjustment was big or small, it’s genius, and it’s a ton of fun. It’s fun to hear the brass pompously announcing the “Peanut Brittle Brigade” (the popular March in the original) and following it up with an appropriate “sweet band” sound. And the coy beat sets the stage for a coy “Sugar Rum Cherry,” the answer to “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies.” This disc gives you both the Tchaikovsky and Ellington versions, side by side, so you can compare and contrast. The jazz titles reflect the Ellington band’s literate, cosmopolitan sensibilities. “The Volga Vouty” is the Russian Dance,” “Chinoiserie” is the Chinese Dance and the Waltz of the Flowers turns into the “Danse of the Floreadores.” The band is great and features Lew Tabackin on tenor sax, Lew Soloff on trumpet, Bill Easley on clarinet, George Cables on piano and, on drums, Victor Lewis. They sound a lot like the Ellington orchestra. I hope it’s not too early to crack out this “Nutcracker,” because I already have, and there’s no putting it back in its shell. ∆∆∆∆ (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Jazz

Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd, Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dream Project with Maurice Decaul and Lynn Hill (Pi); Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Red Hot, (Hot Cup). Here are two hugely unusual jazz discs by those among the most daring musicians to be presented in the Albright-Knox Gallery’s Hunt Real Estate Art of Jazz Series – Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s “Red Hot” which the group’s leader Moppa Elliott claims for publicity purposes is “the best album we’ve ever made” (shades of shades of Charles Mingus hyping “Tijuana Moods” and then, later, “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” – the latter of which vaguely justified the superlative). “Red Hot” is the group’s investigation of jazz from the ‘20’s and ‘30’s done their way, just as their last disc, the giddily ironic “Slippery Ironic” created free-form avant fantasias out of “classic” smooth jazz from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. The “liner notes” for the disc claim “Red Hot” to be the name of a “cluster of miner’s hovels” nestled in the small valley northwest of the confluence of Bull Creek and Deer Creek” which “played second fifddle to nearby Russelton in virtually every measure of quality of life.” Here, they say, is the music of their favorite band, the Brimstone Corner’s Boys. Lester Bowie Meets Spike Jones. Altogether different is the dead earnest “Holding It Down: The Veteran’s Project” by the extraordinary Rochester composer/pianist Vijay Iyer who was just named a MacArthur fellow, largely on the strength, no doubt, of unusual projects like this. These are musical settings of poems by Mike Ladd, Maurice Decaul and Lynn Hill, veterans of war from Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s powerful both in idea and musical achievement. Ratings: ∆∆∆ for both. (J.S.)

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Phil Woods and the Festival Orchestra, “New Celebration” (Chiaroscuro). Phil Woods’ immortality in the history of Buffalo’s musical life is assured but for notably peculiar reasons: He was, in fact, the only music (or, for that matter, live entertainment) to take place anywhere during the height of the immortal Blizzard of ’77. He’d been booked into the Statler Hilton Downtown Room, and his long-running quintet – a family operation if ever there was one – had made it to the Statler and performed, even though a blizzard and a legal driving ban kept attendance as minimal as you’d imagine. He played with accustomed heat anyway because that is the definition of who Phil Woods is. Woods will be 82 in November. Here, from April, is Woods playing with a big band – some tributes to his contemporaries leaving us (Hank Jones, Art Pepper) and ending with “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” His old buddy and employer Quincy Jones writes in the notes that Woods’ “writing is as fluid and concise as his playing,” and no less full of body and presence than it was when he roared out of Charlie Parker’s orbit into the jazz forefront. What hereby happens is that, along with a new Lyle Mays trio disc, Hank O’Neal’s great old Chiaroscuro Records has been revived under the leadership of George Graham. Good to have it back. ∆∆∆ (J.S.)

Soundtrack

Philip Glass, Visitors performed by the Bruckner Orchestra Linz conducted by Dennis Russell Davies (Orange Mountain). “Visitors” is the newest collaboration in the unique and exceptional partnership of filmmaker Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass. The extraordinary “Koyanisqatsi” and “Powaqqatsi” preceded it. “Vistors,” which premiered with members of the Toronto Symphony at the Toronto Film Festival in September, has been described as merely 71 long-held images, mostly of faces, to Glass’ contemplative music. Merely on its own the music can be haunting. The film is scheduled to open in 2014. ∆∆∆ (J.S.)